Monthly Archive: August 2014

Guest Post: Megan Chance

Welcome, Megan Chance

As she celebrates the publication of her latest novel, Inamorata, Megan Chance took a few minutes out of her schedule to drop by and answer some questions about her writing process.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Inamorata was that even though it has elements of the fantastical – succubi feasting on artistic powers – the characters were entirely original and believable. How difficult is it, I wondered, to create such believable characters? Megan explains to us how she draws people we feel we know and with whom we can identify. I think her observation that we really haven’t changed across the centuries is interesting and accurate. Thank you, Megan!

Make sure you check out Inamorata. It is a fascinating, beautifully written novel.

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The Believable Character, by Megan Chance

For me, story comes from character, and so my invented people have to be believable, because the entire plot hangs upon their actions. These five tenets help me develop characters who feel real.

  1. We all have a self-concept that defines us: “I’m an artist,” “I’m brave,” “I’m a mother.” In fiction, everything a character does should support or negate his self-concept. That self-concept should also be the fatal flaw that brings about a character’s rise or fall. For example, a “brave man’s” act of courage might bring about disaster. In real life, it’s our response to an event that determines our fate, not the event itself. In fiction, it should be the same.
  2. Every character should have a past, and this past should be revealed slowly. People don’t tell you their secrets right away. They’ll say, “Oh yeah, my parents are divorced,” but they won’t say, “When my parents divorced, I started doing drugs, lying and stealing.” It isn’t until you know a person well and trust them that you reveal your deepest emotions and secrets. Characters who reveal too much too soon feel fake.
  3. No one believes they’re evil. Everyone has something they want, and they justify that desire so it 1485753fd6e10a7e9d9aee.L._V195542718_SX200_seems honorable and ethical and reasonable to them. Even a villain has his good moments. Letting the reader understand why every character acts as he does creates a three-dimensional world.
  4. In my research, I’ve read countless journals, letters and autobiographies, and I’ve learned that people have not really changed. We are motivated by the same things as our ancestors: anger, love, jealousy, hate, pride. People have always had illicit affairs and forbidden urges; violence, abuse and stress have always existed, and always will.
  5. What has changed is the way society perceives such things, and the price one pays. Until recently, alcoholism was a moral failing, not a disease. The insane had no pill to take, and most self-medicated. An affair or illegitimate pregnancy could mean ruin. There was no Child Protective Services to step in and save children from abuse. Divorce was practically unheard of. A woman who wanted a creative outlet had few options. Ask yourself: if I were in this situation, and all these doors were closed to me, what would I do? What would I sacrifice? What could I live with or without? We all know what it feels like to be trapped. Readers will empathize.

It’s important to remember that while your characters should be like real people, with quirks and insecurities, they must also be fathomable. While you or I may do things that seem inconsistent, being “out of character” is the kiss of death in fiction. Giving a character one or two defining characteristics—and making them matter—is key. Too much complication in fiction feels unreal.

Remember: simplicity rules.

Review: The Debutante Divorcee

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The Debutante Divorcee

by Plum Sykes
Published by HarperCollins
288 pages
Genre: chick lit
3 / 5

Summary:

The delicious New York Times bestselling follow up to Bergdorf Blondes, a chic and witty tale of marriage, friendship, and divorce, that moves from New York to London, the Alps to Moscow, now back in print in a gorgeous, eye-catching package.

Newly married Sylvie Mortimer has found bliss with her Divine New Husband, Hunter. But her perfect Town & Country life is about to be rocked by a divine and dangerous predator—her new friend, the very rich, very young, very thin, very pretty, and very divorced Lauren Blount.

New York’s most reckless and glamorous Debutante Divorcee, Lauren is also the city’s most eager Husband Huntress. And now she’s got her sights on a new man: Sylvie’s Divine New Husband. . . .

My Review:

You know that One Percent we hear about, especially during an election cycle? The richest of the rich? The group whose biggest headaches include the illness of a nail technician or a forgotten yoga mat?

This book is all about them.

In that regard, it is utterly, completely, and proudly un-relatable to the rest of us.

Sylvie thinks she has a good marriage, although since she just got married, it’s a bit of a head scratcher as to why she thinks it’s so solid. Her husband didn’t even come on their honeymoon because he had work obligations. That, my dear, is what I would call a harbinger of doom, especially when coupled with Sylvie’s (frequent) observations that she is just so in love and Hunter is just so awesome and being married is just so fabulous.

It doesn’t help that Sylvie’s new BFF Lauren, whom she met when Sylvie went on her honeymoon to a Mexican resort known as the destination for divorce honeymoons (seriously), appears to be living the frisky and fancy free life of a divorcee.

When Sylvie becomes suspicious of Hunter and begins to wonder if he’s entirely faithful, the drama kicks up. Lauren has already warned Sylvie about the rich, thin, and gorgeous “husband huntress” – recently divorced women who want to poach your very married husband. Sylvie’s paranoia ratchets up through the roof.

This book gives you a glimpse into what the rich (and bored) are up to, and if there is any truth to it, Plum Sykes does us a favor. There is nothing to covet about these people’s lives, save for the ease that money brings. They are all – every one of them – miserable. The only one who might be happy is Sylvie, and her happiness turns to misery fairly quickly. Yes, she has access to designer duds and fancy vacations. Yes, she has not one monetary worry in her pretty little head. But apparently the Beatles were right: money can’t buy love, and that’s what all of the characters in this book want, secretly or otherwise.

Great silliness abounds, from page to page. You might even give yourself a headache from all of the eye rolling you will do. I don’t know if we are intended to mock or disdain Sykes’ characters, but I sure did.

So why read it? To make yourself feel better, for one. You may be mired in mortgage payments, childcare issues, increasing debt, and knock-offs from TJ Maxx, but you, my friend, are innumerably happier than anyone in The Debutante Divorcee. It’s also fun. The travels, the clothes, the food – those are fun to read about. The misplaced morals, the strange social customs, the false sense of superiority – those are also fun, if not a tad disturbing. What if these people really do exist? Good grief.

That Plum Sykes needs to deliver her message with such a heavy hand is perhaps due to wanting to prove to us, once and for all, that the rich don’t have everything. They just like to appear as if they do.

Buy Links:

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Review: Inamorata

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Inamorata

by Megan Chance
Published by Lake Union Publishing
420 pages
Genre: literature; suspense
4.5 / 5

Summary:

American artist Joseph Hannigan and his alluring sister, Sophie, have arrived in enchanting nineteenth-century Venice with a single-minded goal. The twins, who have fled scandal in New York, are determined to break into Venice’s expatriate set and find a wealthy patron to support Joseph’s work.

But the enigmatic Hannigans are not the only ones with a secret agenda. Joseph’s talent soon attracts the attention of the magnificent Odilé Leon, a celebrated courtesan and muse who has inspired many artists to greatness. But her inspiration comes with a devastatingly steep price.

As Joseph falls under the courtesan’s spell, Sophie joins forces with Nicholas Dane, the one man who knows Odilé’s dark secret, and her sworn enemy. When the seductive muse offers Joseph the path to eternal fame, the twins must decide who to believe—and just how much they are willing to sacrifice for fame.

My Review:

Each of us has a wish. For some, it’s fame. For others, it’s wealth. Maybe you want to leave your mark in some way, whether it’s by finding a cure for cancer or winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Everyone wants something.

And that is the crux of this book: what would you do if you could get what you want? What are you willing to part with? To accept? To deny or to embrace?

What price would you pay to make that wish come true?

The Hannigan twins want one thing: for Joseph to achieve fame as an artist. Sophie’s wish is the same as her brother’s, so entwined are the two of them. Then again, they’ve had no choice. Orphaned at a young age, they were isolated from others till their late teens. All they knew was each other, all they had was each other. Their connection is intense to the point of both attracting and frightening those who see it.

They only have each other. But is that enough? Is their bond – their drive and ambition – enough to achieve their goal?

After a disaster drives them out of the United States, they head to Venice, where, in the late nineteenth century, artists were revered and celebrated, in hopes of securing a patron. When they meet Nicholas Dane, they see in the Englishman someone who can gain them access through his connections. That he and Sophie are attracted to each other is something the Hannigans intend to use, Sophie perhaps in slightly less mercenary way.

There is one person whom Nicholas hopes to keep away from the Hannigans: Odilé, a succubus who preys on talented artists. And by “prey,” I mean that literally. She sucks the talent right out of them, drawing on their abilities to sustain her. She is in near constant search of someone who can feed her, and Nicholas knows that Joseph’s talent will be a powerful allure for Odilé. He also knows that Odilé presents an offer to her artist lovers: I can give you what you want … for a price.

This is a mesmerizing book, to the point that you feel like one of Odilé’s victims: irresistibly attracted to it and unable to deny it.

The characters are richly detailed and utterly compelling. Odilé, Sophie, and Nicholas take turns narrating the book, leaving Joseph as the sole member of the quartet whom we know only through the filters of the other three. It’s an interesting choice, and its symbolism comes to light at the end of the book.

Nicholas sees similarities between Odilé and Sophie, which plays on Megan Chase’s motif of symmetry. Light cannot exist without darkness, nor good without evil. So it is with Odilé and Sophie, to an extent. Each impacts those around her, albeit in different ways. Nicholas mourns the loss of his poetic artistry thanks to Odilé, yet feels a resurgence with Sophie. His sexual arousal around both women is powerful and heady, try as he does to deny it.

The Hannigans are sexually open, which is somewhat surprising – especially for Sophie – given the time period of the novel. They use sex to satiate other desires and frustrations; in one interlude, Sophie’s lover bruises and marks her, and she accepts this unquestioningly. Her understanding of sex is that of something she needs and can wield to get her what she wants. She craves the emotional intimacy of the act but doesn’t trust that it exists. Joseph’s views are equally as skewed. For him, sex is an outlet, a means of quieting his mind. It’s a temporary release, nothing more. Unusual, yes, but understandable given the twins’ childhoods.

For Odilé, sex is a means of proffering artistry while allowing her to receive the power she needs. As with Joseph, there is nothing emotional in the exchange. It’s strictly a means to an end. Nicholas, on the other hand, seeks the emotional intimacy that Sophie wants. He is appalled by raw urges, and when he recalls sex with Odilé, he focuses largely on how he emotionally felt when he was with her, not on the physical satisfaction. It is no accident that Nicholas is the only one of the four whose introduction to sex was without emotional trauma.

We know as we read this book that Joseph is the one who will be fought over. He is the one in danger, and he is the one we worry about. I dreaded getting to the point where Joseph would fall into Odilé’s clutches, but when the two come in contact, Megan Chase writes it brilliantly, subtly foreshadowing the novel’s ending. Joseph is unapologetic about his wish for fame, and Odilé is ever searching for someone with his talent and desires. He appears to be the perfect victim.

This book, faithful readers, is so freaking good. The Venetian atmosphere is exceptionally well crafted, so much so that I cannot imagine the setting being anywhere else. The characters are riveting, and the story utterly compelling. The only weakness – and this, I admit, is nit picky – is the ending. There is something about it that feels both frustrating and convenient. I don’t want to say more because to do so would be to spoil this gem, but I will allow this: it isn’t the sacrifice, its what happens afterwards. I just had a difficult time believing it.

Set aside a few hours and enjoy this book. You won’t want to put it down once you start on it, and you may find yourself brushing off that passport and booking a flight to Venice.

And you assuredly will ask yourself: what am I willing to sacrifice to get what I want?

Links:

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Author’s website: http://meganchance.com

Review: First We Take Manhattan

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First We Take Manhattan

by Colette Caddle
Published by Simon & Schuster
416 pages
Genre: women’s fiction
3 / 5

Summary:

Identical twins, Sinead and Sheila Fields, have always done everything together and so, after graduating in millinery, they decide to open their own hat shop. It’s a small business but thanks to hard work and talent, they build up a loyal clientele. Then one day a glamorous young actress buys one of their hats, wears it to the Baftas and suddenly success seems guaranteed. But within weeks, tragedy strikes when Sheila disappears, and is presumed dead. After months of desolation, Sinead is jst beginning to come to terms with her loss when she is given new hope: there has been a sighting of her sister. While she is filled with excitement at the thought that Sheila might be alive, she is haunted by questions. Why would Sheila have deserted her twin without a word? After all, they had always told each other everything … hadn’t they? A compelling, emotional story from number one bestseller Colette Caddle.

My Review:

The premise for this book is soooo good. You’ve got identical twin sisters, one goes missing and is presumed dead, leaving the other one so bereft with grief that the women’s business suffers, her relationship suffers, and the people around her suspect her of paranoia.

What you need, though, is a reason for the one sister to leave. It must be a viable, believable reason that doesn’t feel forced or contrived.

And that’s where this book loses its steam.

Sinead is barely hanging on after twin sister Sheila’s disappearance many months earlier. In a millinery business together, Sinead’s grief has caused a loss of clientele, not to mention distance from her boyfriend, father, brother, and Sheila’s husband. After she receives a disturbing prognosis for her professional future, Sinead pulls herself together and hires an assistant.

This proves to be quite fortuitous, because her assistant, newly returned to Ireland from a brief attempt at a fashion career in New York, says she is pretty certain that she saw Sheila over there.

This, of course, sends Sinead into a tizzy. Is Sheila still alive? But how could she be? She’s Sinead’s twin sister! They were so close! Sheila would never do this to Sinead!

So … if Sheila left, she had to have a good reason, right?

Caddle lets us know fairly early that Sheila is, in fact, alive and living in New York, and – coincidences of coincidences – she does run into Sinead’s future employee on a sidewalk there. Sheila alludes to all sorts of dark reasons for her disappearance, leading me to assume it would be pretty spectacular.

The problem is, it was not. It was anticlimactic to the point that, upon reading it, I said out loud, “That’s IT?” The greater mystery, as it turns out, is what’s going on with Sheila’s husband and the twins’ father.

Dear Old Dad’s story, while more compelling than Sheila’s, nonetheless is a head scratcher. It isn’t so much that we can’t believe it’s true as it is that Sinead’s recollections of her father and her treatment of him belie the truth of his character.

There are some very neat, very tidy endings in this book. If you’re looking for messiness, this is not the book for you. If you want happy happy, then it might be.

Sinead is likable and pitiable, although she occasionally behaves very selfishly. Sheila, though, is a piece of work. All of Sinead’s fond memories of her sister seem to be at odds with the character we see. That anyone would care about this woman is questionable, to say the least.

Parts of this book are really fun to read. When we get in the head of the twins’ brother and his love interest, it’s enjoyable, cute, and sweet. Sinead’s complexity makes her interesting, although, like I said, sometimes you just want to shout at her to stop. Ultimately, however, the problem is the weakness of Sheila’s reasons for leaving Ireland. I just did not buy into them.

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Review: Small Blessings

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Small Blessings

by Martha Woodroof
Published by Picador
320 pages
Genre: literature; women’s fiction
4.5 / 5

Summary:

Tom Putnam, an English professor at a Virginia women’s college, has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. For more than ten years, his wife Marjory has been a shut-in, a fragile and frigid woman whose neuroses have left her fully dependent on Tom and his formidable mother-in-law, Agnes Tattle. Tom considers his unhappy condition self-inflicted, since Marjory’s condition was exacerbated by her discovery of Tom’s brief and misguided affair with a visiting poetess. But when Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the campus bookstore’s charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to dinner, her first social interaction in a decade, Tom wonders if it’s a sign that change is on the horizon. And when Tom returns home that evening to a letter from the poetess telling him that he’d fathered her son, Henry, and that Henry, now ten, will arrive by train in a few days, it’s clear change is coming whether Tom’s ready or not.

Martha Woodroof’s Small Blessings is funny, heart-warming and poignant, with a charmingly imperfect cast of cinema-ready characters. Listeners will fall in love with the novel’s wonderfully optimistic heart that reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life is veering irrevocably off track, the track changes in ways we never could have imagined.

My Review:

What a lovely, warm, witty, beautifully crafted novel.

What Tom Putnam’s life lacks in passion and comfort it makes up for in predictability. His awkward and fragile wife Marjory may not bring much to the marriage, aside from a ball buster of a mother, but she’s his, for better or for worse. Tom knows how to handle and approach Marjory, experience borne of lessons learned the hard way. His brief affair with a poet-in-residence did him no matrimonial favors, so now, ten years later, he indulges his wife’s quirks.

On a rare night out together, Tom and Marjory attend a soiree at the campus bookstore, where they meet Rose Callahan. Marjory behaves quite uncharacteristically. Not only does she invite Rose to dinner – something virtually unknown in the Putnam home – but she seems drawn to her. The two exchange a look in which Rose feels like Marjory confers her approval.

Marjory isn’t the only one drawn to Rose. Tom’s fellow professors find themselves attracted to her, whether sexually, emotionally, or intellectually. Rose’s vagabond childhood as the daughter of a single bartender mother engendered in her the ability to feel at home anywhere, ironically enabling her to make the natives feel comfortable when she arrives at a new destination. And then there is Tom, who finds himself quoting Shakespeare when he first sees Rose: “The very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service.”

Tom feels a sense of change emerging in his life. Marjory has shown a social interest in someone else, he enjoys his mother-in-law’s company, and Rose. There is something about Rose that gives him an extra spark. Alas, as all good professors of literature know, when you start to get comfortable, change shows up to knock you for a loop. In Tom’s case, that change is a letter from the poet stating that he has a ten-year-old son named Henry, and Henry is on his way to stay for a visit.

This becomes just one cataclysmic change to which Henry must adapt. As he confronts the onslaught, he relies on his mother-in-law and, increasingly, Rose to help him.

To tell more about the plot would be to divulge too much, but suffice it to say, Rose, much like her eponymous bush, brings both beauty and thorns to the campus. She is a breathtaking fragrance in an otherwise dull-smelling community. Like the flower, though, Rose can cause pain, not the least of which is to herself.

You will want to pull up a chair and spend time with these people, and you will be sad to say goodbye to them. Woodroof fully develops her characters and she lets us get to know them, putting us into their heads as she alternates narrative perspectives. We get closest to Tom and Rose, two people we enjoy immensely. Tom may not have enjoyed the most loving and romantic marriage, but he’s at peace with his life, allowing his passions to emerge when he discusses Shakespeare. He’s a man who knows who he is, and that stability has served him well, both in his marriage and in his approach to his new son. Rose, on the other hand, is less stable, despite being described by one character as being “remarkably self-contained.” She is that, but she can’t – she won’t allow herself to – stay in one place for too long. Whereas Tom is accepting of his life, Rose can’t quite achieve that goal.

If there is a weakness, it would be with the minor characters, particularly a woman with whom Tom works. I couldn’t quite figure out why we spent as much time with her as we did, largely because her arc seemed to throw off the pacing somewhat.

Still, this is a fantastic book. Woodroof writes beautifully, making you fully engaged in this story. Alas, it has to end, but oh what an ending. Read this one. You will enjoy it.

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Review: Dare to Surrender (Invitation to Eden) (Dare to Love Book 3)

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Invitation to Eden

by Carly Phillips
Published by CP Publishing
230 pages
Genre: erotica; romance
3 / 5

Summary:

After ending a relationship to a cheating, domineering man, Isabelle Masters takes off in her leased Mercedes, only to be arrested for grand theft auto and hauled to a local police station. To her surprise, she is rescued by the most unlikely person possible, Gabriel Dare, a man she’s been attracted to for far too long. Gabe offers Isabelle freedom along with an invitation to Eden, an exclusive island resort where everything and anything is possible.

Although Gabe yearns to possess Isabelle, he knows all too well he must fight his primitive need to bind her to him, and instead help bring out the independent woman she yearns to become – or risk losing her for good.

A woman who needs to run her own life. An Alpha man who needs to exert control. Can she surrender to his demands without losing her sense of self once more?

*Part of Invitation to Eden Multi Author Series (stands alone for reading enjoyment)

My Review:

The great thing about Carly Phillips’ books is that they make no pretension to be anything other than what they are: entertaining and full of sexy times.

This one is a quick, hot read. Isabelle is a surprisingly feisty heroine, considering she seems to have been emotionally coerced into a Stepford girlfriend by her cheating louse of a lover. That she escapes him by immediately running into – albeit not by choice – the gloriously gorgeous Gabe is problematic in that Isabelle isn’t forced to try to survive on her own.

She realizes this, of course, but Gabe is just so yummalicious. And so … talented. Why not stick around? There is all but a turnstile by his door, so the least Isabelle can do is stick around and enjoy Gabe’s prowess while she can.

Phillips gamely attempts to give these two depth, and it isn’t that she fails as much as it is that their backgrounds are utterly predictable. Most of the book, in fact, is utterly predictable. At times you might think you’ve read it before.

And yet it’s impossible not to enjoy it.

Obviously, this being a Carly Phillips novel, you will need to strap on your vibrators, girls. The hot headboard rocking is exceptionally hot. Nicely detailed, it is guaranteed to cause some reactions.

If you’re in the market for a steamy summer read, this is a good choice. Just don’t go into it expecting much depth or substance.

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Review: Wide Awake (Wide Awake Series Book 1)

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Wide Awake

by Shelly Crane
Published by All Night Reads
276 pages
Genre: romance; young adult
3 / 5

Summary:

A YA LOVE story about a girl who has her life turned upside down.
A girl.
A coma.
A life she can’t remember.
When Emma Walker wakes up in the hospital with no knowledge of how she got there, she learns that she’s been in a coma for six months. Strangers show up and claim to be her parents, but she can’t remember them. She can’t remember anyone. Not her friends, not even her boyfriend. Even though she can’t remember, everyone wants her to just pick up where she left off, but what she learns about the ‘old her’ makes her start to wish she’d never woken up. Her boyfriend breaks up with the new girl he’s dating to be with her, her parents want her to start planning for college, her friends want their leader back, and her physical therapist with the hazel eyes keeps his distance to save his position at the hospital.
Will she ever feel like she recognizes the girl in the mirror?

My Review:

Writers have long used coincidences in their novels. No less of an authority than Charles Dickens employed them in Great Expectations, to the point that their believability is a source of debate. Sure, you have that moment hen you think, “Oh, suuuure. Pip’s benefactor is Estella’s father.” Dickens’ writing, though, elevates the eye roll to literary classic stature.

And then you have something like Wide Awake, in which the coincidences are just too much. They verge on the ridiculous and undercut Shelly Crane’s story.

So Emma wakes up from a coma, and staring at her are two people who supposedly are her parents. She remembers pop culture and how to read, but she has no recollection of Mom and Dad, or of her two siblings, or of her friends, or of her boyfriend.

It’s all a bit overwhelming, certainly. Thankfully, she has Mason, her gorgeous and kind hearted physical therapist. Mason is the only one who understands Emma’s confusion and frustration. In fact, those scenes – the ones that show us the varying emotions Emma experiences during her recovery – are the strongest in the book.

What’s not so strong are the discrepancies. Her parents, for one thing, clearly do not approve of the boyfriend. Yet when Emma eschews going to prom with him, their expected relief instead is depicted as near anger. How dare she not go with this fine young man! Then, seemingly out of nowhere, her mother does a 180 and becomes kind and loving, just how Mason tells Emma that her parents behaved as they tended to her during the coma.

Emma’s emotional and psychological therapist is another issue. I cannot think of any circumstances under which a therapist could retain her license if she told a patient – clearly out of bitterness – to embrace her old life when she has no memory of it whatsoever.

Like I said, the story is at its strongest when we are with Emma as she attempts to figure out who she is now that she’s, er, wide awake. She learns about the pre-accident Emma, and she isn’t always happy with what she finds out. Her friends and family expect her to behave in a certain way, and when she doesn’t, she feels alternately guilty and frustrated. There is a lovely little scene in which she eats a peach while talking to her father. His shock and discomfort at watching her causes him to withdraw, which in turn makes Emma feel both wretched and angry. The old Emma may not have liked peaches, but the new one does, and she can’t understand why her father doesn’t accept that. Her father, on the other hand, sees the physical representation of his daughter in front of him, yet she does not behave as he expects her to, which unnerves him. Shelly Crane helps us see these moments very effectively.

It’s scenes like that that help overcome the weaknesses of plot. Crane’s reliance on coincidences is distracting at best, and there are obvious plot gaps. How can Emma, who missed so much school, be able to slide back in and complete the requirements to graduate? And how can “old” Emma assume she would get into an ivy league school when clearly she placed no emphasis on academic achievement?

The romance that unfolds is sweet and lovely, almost too sweet. It gives Emma a safe have, though, and that’s important for her. There is no explicit sex, and any scenes with physical romance are written appropriately for a teen reader.

The fact that this is the first of a series is a bit of a disappointment. I’d rather end Emma’s story where Crane does, but I guess publishers want to squeeze everything but the oink out of a metaphorical literary pig.

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Review: After I'm Gone

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After I’m Gone

by Laura Lippman
Published by William Morrow / HarperCollins
351 pages
Genre: mystery; fiction
4 / 5

Summary:

Laura Lippman, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Most Dangerous Thing, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know, returns with an addictive story that explores how one man’s disappearance echoes through the lives of the wife, mistress, and daughters he left behind.

When Felix Brewer meets Bernadette “Bambi” Gottschalk at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi’s comfortable world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she’s left to join her old lover—until her remains are eventually found.

Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web stretching over three decades that connects five intriguing women. And at the center is the missing man Felix Brewer.

Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy will find the truth. And when he does, no one will ever be the same.

My Review:

It turns out that hell truly does hath no fury like a woman scorned. Felix Brewer would have been well served to remember that caveat.

Felix is one of those guys who loves, adores, cherishes, and uses women, primarily for his own pleasure. He sees Bambi when he crashes a high school dance and immediately steals her away from her date, setting a precedent to which he will adhere for the rest of his life. Bambi, too, begins a pattern from which she never deviates when she allows Felix to claim her, silently acquiescing to something she knows is wrong, yet not only accepts but enjoys.

His love of women so pronounced that Felix regularly cheats on Bambi, it further manifests itself in his siring three daughters, two of whom, as one character wryly observes, carry shreds of his DNA in their looks. Felix, you see, is not the most handsome man. He is, however, charming, persistent, and sexually compelling, traits his youngest daughter Michelle inherited. Coupled with Bambi’s stunning beauty, Michelle might as well have “Nothing But Trouble” tattooed on her forehead.

When Felix takes off prior to his prison sentence, Bambi and the girls are thrown into financial insecurity. Felix tells us in the beginning of the book that he made financial provisions for his family, but Bambi never seems to have received the bounty. Instead, she increasingly is forced to rely on Felix’s best bud Bert, a successful attorney. This doesn’t stop her from spending money she doesn’t have, which ratchets up middle daughter Rachel’s anxiety. The smart and responsible sister, Rachel carries many burdens, not the least of which is making sure her mother doesn’t wind up living in a cardboard box. Older daughter Linda struggles with remembering her lively father and forgiving his vanishing from her life.

There is a fifth woman who played an integral role in Felix’s life: Julie Saxony, a stripper at his club. Julie helps Felix escape, and Bambi believes that Julie knows where Felix hid the money.

In addition to Felix, Lippman uses six points of view for the story, five of them belonging to the women in his life. The sixth is that of Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a man with a woman’s name. He takes up the cold case of Julie’s murder, an event that took place just shy of the ten year anniversary of Felix’s disappearing act. Sandy feels an affinity for the deceased girl, finding her scrappy and well intentioned. That is one of the more puzzling aspects of this book, because Julie is so vastly different from Sandy. I was glad when Sandy learned some less than flattering details about Julie, hoping that it would stem his strange appreciation of a dead women whom he never knew alive.

Lippman bounces back and forth in time, and you must pay attention to the chapter titles in order to know which time frame applies to that chapter’s action. Otherwise you will be terribly confused. She also layers her mysteries, knowing that the whodunit of Julie’s death is far more compelling when you add in what happened to Felix, Michelle’s various shenanigans, the cause of Rachel’s sadness, and the prominence that Bert plays in their lives. Each thread is utterly compelling, and you will find it difficult to put this book down.

Lippman is to be commended to establishing clear voices for each of her characters and for not feeling it necessary to fill in all the blanks about Felix. There is much we never know about him, which places us in the same position as his wife, daughters, lover, and investigator. He is a man who compartmentalized himself, something Lippman represents by breaking the book into sections, whose titles bear a certain significance.

This is a well written, well paced, enjoyable mystery.

Purchase Links:

AmazonLaura Lippman
IndieBound
Barnes & Noble

For more information about Laura Lippman, check out her website and Facebook page. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Review: This is the Water

This is the Water

This is the Water

by Yannick Murphy
Published by Harper Perennial
352 pages
Genre: fiction; mystery
4 / 5

Summary:

From Yannick Murphy, award-winning author of The Call, comes a fast-paced story of murder, adultery, parenthood, and romance, involving a girls’ swim team, their morally flawed parents, and a killer who swims in their midst.

In a quiet New England community members of swim team and their dedicated parents are preparing for a home meet. The most that Annie, a swim-mom of two girls, has to worry about is whether or not she fed her daughters enough carbs the night before; why her husband, Thomas, hasn’t kissed her in ages; and why she can’t get over the loss of her brother who shot himself a few years ago.

But Annie’s world is about to change. From the bleachers, looking down at the swimmers, a dark haired man watches a girl. No one notices him. Annie is busy getting to know Paul, who flirts with Annie despite the fact that he’s married to her friend Chris, and despite Annie’s greying hair and crow’s feet. Chris is busy trying to discover whether or not Paul is really having an affair, and the swimmers are trying to shave milliseconds off their race times by squeezing themselves into skin-tight bathing suits and visualizing themselves winning their races.

When a girl on the team is murdered at a nearby highway rest stop—the same rest stop where Paul made a gruesome discovery years ago—the parents suddenly find themselves adrift. Paul turns to Annie for comfort. Annie finds herself falling in love. Chris becomes obsessed with unmasking the killer.

With a serial killer now too close for comfort, Annie and her fellow swim-parents must make choices about where their loyalties lie. As a series of startling events unfold, Annie discovers what it means to follow your intuition, even if love, as well as lives, could be lost.

My Review:

What do you do when it appears as if a serial killer has murdered a member of your daughters’ swim team?

Yannick Murphy gives us the perspectives of a myriad of characters, both parents and swimmers. She uses a unique device when getting us in the head of main character Annie: Murphy employs second person.

The title gives you an idea of another device in that Murphy points out different objects, characters, behaviors, and activities by saying, “This is the …” It makes for a varied narrative, and in the case of Annie, you feel as if you are in the midst of the story. I hope, though, for your sake, that you’re a bit smarter than Annie is.

A freelance wedding photographer and married mother of teenaged and pre-teen daughters, Annie’s biggest struggle is with the ennui she battles. She loves husband Thomas, but there is a disconnect there. Thomas is prone to spouting off seemingly irrelevant facts about all manner of scientific things to which Annie pays scant attention. She vaguely recalls a point in their relationship when she gave him more rapt interest, but these days, she will sooner walk out of the room than sit and listen.  Everything seems to require more energy than Annie has to give. Even the act of touching her husband in bed necessitates a seemingly overwhelming amount of effort, so when he rebuffs her, she is shocked, hurt, and frustrated. Not so much because they don’t have sex, but more that she expended energy she doesn’t feel she has, only to be rejected.

The murder of the swimmer doesn’t jar Annie nearly as much as it does other parents, although she finds herself caught up in the curiosity and paranoia. One reason for this is a growing friendship between her and Paul, the handsome college professor husband of one of the swim team moms, a woman Annie (and everyone else) finds almost unbearably beautiful. But Paul is interested in Annie, and she flushes and blushes under such passion.

Paul, it turns out, is connected to the serial killer, and he desperately wishes no one would learn of that connection. His wife, on the other hand, conscripts herself to bait the killer, determined that she will find him and see him put away before he can kill again. Her investigations could uncover Paul’s involvement, which certainly will not help their marriage.

Murphy also lets us get into the head of the killer. He shares a need for energy with Annie, only he believes he gets energy from the girls he kills. He likes them young and spirited, believing that as he snuffs out their lives, their spirits infuse him. Annie, on the other hand, finds herself gaining energy from her relationship with Paul. While there is no physical death resulting from her newfound spark, there is the possibility of the death of Paul’s marriage.

While we know the identity of the killer, Murphy still drives the book with several mysteries. Will the killer get caught? Will he kill more girls? Will Paul’s connection to him be revealed? What will come of Paul and Annie’s marriages? Will Annie shake off her lethargy?

My biggest complaint is the ending. It all comes together a bit too easily, a bit too conveniently. The “hero” seems blithely unaffected by the actions taken, and the hand-holding happiness seems a bit forced and Hollywood-ish. After all of the ugliness in the book, its closing prettiness seems jarringly out of place. Then again, water washes away filth, doesn’t it? It cleanses, right? Maybe that’s the whole point.

Water, obviously, is an important symbol. It is an element, it’s something that we cannot live without, it comprises us, and it can kill us. For swimmers, water presents a multilayered challenge. Water buoys them, it protects them to some degree, yet they must fight it in order to win the race. Swimmers share the water in the pool, even as they have their own particular lane of it. It both destroys and nurtures, obliterates and sustains.

This is the water, but it’s also us.

Important Links:Yannick Murphy

To purchase a copy, head on over to Amazon, IndieBound, and Barnes & Noble.

And for information about Yannick Murphy, check out her website.

Review: Meet Me in Barcelona

meet me in barcelona

Meet Me in Barcelona

by Mary Carter
Published by Kensington
384 pages
Genre: women’s fiction; mystery
3.5 / 5

Summary:

A surprise trip to Barcelona with her boyfriend, Jake, seems like the perfect antidote to Grace Sawyer’s current woes. The city is dazzling and unpredictable, but the biggest surprise for Grace is discovering who arranged and paid for the vacation.

Carrie Ann wasn’t just Grace’s foster sister. Clever, pretty, and mercurial, she was her best friend—until everything went terribly wrong. Now, as she flees an abusive marriage, Carrie Ann has turned to the one person she hopes will come through for her. Despite her initial misgivings, Grace wants to help. But then Carrie Ann and Jake both go missing. Stunned and confused, Grace begins to realize how much of herself she’s kept from Jake—and how much of Carrie Ann she never understood. Soon Grace is baited into following a trail of scant clues across Spain, determined to find the truth, even if she must revisit her troubled past to do it.

Mary Carter’s intriguing novel delves into the complexities of childhood bonds, the corrosive weight of guilt and blame, and all the ways we try—and often fail—to truly know the ones we love.

My Review:

There is a LOT going on in this book.

First we have Grace and Jake’s relationship. They have lived together for five years, they love each other, and Grace envisions a wedding. But does Jake? When this surprise trip to Barcelona comes up, Grace keeps anticipating Jake falling on bended knee. Will he?

The trip itself is a mystery, of course. Who sent the two of them on this trip? When Grace and Jake discover that it’s her long lost “sister” Carrie Ann, no one is more surprised than Grace. Well, Jake is pretty shocked too because he had no idea Carrie Ann existed. He begins to wonder. What else has Grace kept from him? He does think – several times – that Grace is pretty awesome, so if she chose not to tell him about Carrie Ann, she must have had a good reason. Right?

Carrie Ann is what you might call a problem. Clearly her motives are not loving or kind. Clearly she is up to no good. But why? Why did she lure Grace to Barcelona? It takes a while to get to that, and sometimes it felt like it was taking too long. There is a Tragic Secret that Carrie Ann and Grace share, another thing she’s never told Jake, and that Tragic Secret of course is a strong motivator for Carrie Ann’s – er – gift.

There are other characters who infiltrate this story, and Mary Carter lets us get into their heads too. Primarily, though, this is Grace’s story. She’s the innocent abroad, and she is the one who has to find and rescue Jake firstly. Whether Carrie Ann requires rescuing is another matter.

Carter’s inconsistent pacing occasionally derails the story, but her strength lies in her characterizations. Even minor characters such as a co-conspirator of Carrie Ann’s are well developed. When Grace suffers a twinge of interest in another man, we don’t blame her as much as we would if we didn’t know her so well. Jake’s lack of a proposal makes her question her desirability, her allure. It makes her susceptible to this good looking man’s interest.

As much as I enjoyed the story, I did occasionally lose interest. I found Carrie Ann to be just awful. She’s the weakest written, and when she filtered the story, I had a hard time turning the pages. Yes, I understand that she had it tough, but I really didn’t care. She just did not hold my interest. One of the big plot twists is broadcast far too loudly, but some of them surprise.

Another good thing: Barcelona. Mary Carter does a fantastic job of bringing the setting into the story and making it an important facet. Grab that passport, because you will want to go for a visit.

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